Wednesday, June 27, 2007
An Excerpt from Outlanders: Satan's Seed
The Tatra Range, Slovakia, 2203
Kane watched the line of distant round lights gently bobbing. Despite the fur lining of his parka’s hood, he heard the steady rumble of powerful engines.
Pushing the goggles up on his forehead, Kane raised a compact set of binoculars and peered through the eyepieces, sweeping them over the bleak, almost monochromatic terrain. The sky to the east showed the pastel colors of dawn. Shadows of the Carpathians and the pinnacle of the Gerlachov Peak acquired sharp outlines against the swiftly growing brightness.
Flurries blew in from the north, a melange of snow, ice and sleet flung by a polar wind across the rocky wilderness. Kane cursed through clenched teeth as the sharp-edged ice particles stung his exposed face. The wind fell as suddenly and as dramatically as it had risen, leaving a feathery swirl of wet snowflakes eddying through the air.
The weather for the past two centuries had always been unpredictable, but usually summers even in the high altitudes eased into a few weeks of autumn. Here in mountainous Eastern Europe, summer plunged straight into winter without a pause, but at least he felt appropriately dressed. He wore several layers of clothing—thermal underwear, a sweater, a fur-lined parka and heavy Thermax pants. Specially designed snow boots encased his feet, and chemically warmed protective gauntlets covered his hands.
Beneath the outer layers he was clad in a one-piece black garment that fitted as tightly as doeskin gloves. The coverall was known as a shadow suit.
Although the suit did not appear as if it could offer protection from a mosquito bite, it was climate controlled for environments that reached highs of one hundred and fifty degrees and as cold as minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. Microfilaments controlled the internal temperature. Kane guessed the current, predawn temperature hovered around minus five.
Kane scraped frost from the ruby-coated lenses of his binoculars with a gloved forefinger, but the curtains of snow prevented a clear view of the convoy of vehicles. He knew they chugged overland from the direction of Gerlachov Peak, but the District Twelve intel provided by Major Zuryakin had informed him of that two days ago.
The transcomm in Kane’s inner breast pocket chirped. He reached inside his parka, twisting a knob on its surface. “Go ahead.”
“We count five,” said Major Illyana Zuryakin. “Five heavy-duty mil-spec vehicles. They appear to be armored
Kane grunted noncommittally, squinting toward the bobbing headlights.
“Does that trouble you, Kane?” Illyana Zuryakin spoke impeccable English and her mastery of subtle nuances, like sarcasm, was pitch-perfect, as well.
“Hell yes, it troubles me,” Kane snapped. “The only reason I’m standing out here freezing my ass in the first place is because it troubles me. Any sign of personnel?”
“Nyet, but our intelligence indicated there are over a dozen well-armed men in the party, possibly more.”
Kane refrained from commenting sourly on the relative trustworthiness of District Twelve intel. Instead, he said, “The Cerberus sat photo sweep picked up at least two dozen well-armed men.”
“So?” The major’s one-word retort was both a dismissal and a challenge.
“So,” Kane replied inanely, “I’m just saying.”
The trans-comm accurately conveyed the woman’s sigh of exasperation. “Your liaison, Brigid Baptiste, was right.”
Kane stiffened reflexively. “About what?”
“About what it was like working with you.”
Kane didn’t even bother to repress the irritation in his tone. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You can ask herself when we rendezvous.” Major Zuryakin’s voice held a flinty edge. “Get the rest of your
team together and meet us at the strike point. We haven’t much time. Understood?”
Kane bit back a profane reply. “Understood.”
Venting an impatient sigh, he peered through the binoculars again. Despite the fact that the snowfall was thinning, he still couldn’t make out much of the convoy except shapes.
Tall and lean, long and rangy of limb, Kane resembled a wolf in the way he carried most of his muscle mass in his upper body. His thick dark hair, showing just enough chestnut highlights to keep it from being a true black, stirred in the chill breeze. A faint hairline scar stretched like a piece of white thread against the sunbronzed, clean-shaved skin of his left cheek. His pale blue-gray eyes held the color of the cold dawn light on a sharp steel blade.
He gave the three-pound block of C-4 a final visual inspection, made sure the detonation cap was secure and glanced around at the tumbles of snow-layered stone. After reassuring himself for the third time that the demolition charge was planted in the right place, Kane turned away.
Below him, in an overhung niche, rose a copse of snow-dusted pines. He picked his way down a steep, treacherous path toward the niche, avoiding thornbushes to the right and frost-sheathed outcroppings of granite on his left.
When he reached the tree line, he heard a faint rustle, and from the corner of his eye he glimpsed the snow-plastered bark of a pine shedding a white flurry. Automatically Kane fell into a crouch, stiffening his right wrist tendons. Sensitive actuators clicked and with a faint, brief drone of a tiny electric motor, the butt of his Sin Eater slapped into his hand.
The official side arm of the defunct Magistrate Divisions, the Sin Eater was strapped to a holster on his right forearm. The 9 mm autopistol had no safety or trigger guard, so when the firing stud came in contact with a crooked index finger, it fired immediately. However, Kane kept his finger extended and out of contact with the trigger stud.
For a crazed instant, he thought the tree was uprooting itself, tearing itself free of the frozen ground to clutch at him with skeletal branches. He sprang to one side, barely able to bite back a cry of alarm, raising the Sin Eater.
Gusting out a profanity, he lowered it almost immediately when he realized Domi, her white face and white parka forming a perfect camouflage, had stepped out from the hollow of the tree to meet him.
“For God’s sake,” he blurted, embarrassed and angry because of it. His breath formed a cloud of steam before
his eyes. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Her angular, hollow-cheeked face twisted in annoyed puzzlement. “Like what? You knew this was my position.”
Domi’s skin was as smoothly pale as porcelain. An albino by birth, the girl’s bone-white hair was cropped short and spiky, her eyes the bright color of polished rubies.
Every inch of five feet tall, Domi barely weighed one hundred pounds, and at first glance she gave the impression of being waiflike. But there wasn’t much of the waif about her compactly lithe body, what little of it could be discerned beneath her bulky cold-weather gear.
“Never mind,” he snapped.
“You sure are getting jumpy in your old age,” Domi observed cheerfully. “And grumpy.”
Shoving the Sin Eater back into its holster, he retorted sarcastically, “With the kind of coworkers I have, I can’t imagine why. Let’s go.”
The two people sidled through the close-growing trees to the edge of the road. Little more than a trench gouged through the snowfield, it tracked up and over a rise a quarter of a mile to the east. The sound of multiple engines steadily increased in volume.
“Still think this was a mistake,” Domi declared, her childlike voice sharp and petulant. “Letting Russkies
run this op ’stead of our own people.”
“Yeah, so you’ve said,” Kane replied casually. “About twenty times since yesterday and thirty times the day before yesterday.”
“Got our own specialists now,” Domi said doggedly. “Don’t need no stinkin’ Russkies.”
Kane blew out a steamy plume of breath in an exasperated sigh. “This is their territory, and they were already onto the Millennial Consortium before we arrived. So, yes, we do need those stinkin’ Russkies.”
“And they need us,” interjected a deep, rumbling voice from behind them. “Just as much if not more.”
Domi and Kane turned to see a big figure looming in the shadowy lee of a craggy overhang. Grant stood six-feet-five-inches tall in his thick-soled jump boots, and like Kane and Domi he wore a hooded white parka. The spread of his shoulders on either side of his thickly corded neck was very broad. Because his body was all knotted sinew and muscle covered by deep brown flesh, he did not look his weight of 250 pounds.
His short-cropped hair was touched with gray at the temples, but it did not show in the gunfighter’s mustache that swept out fiercely around both sides of his tight-lipped mouth. He held a Copperhead close-assault subgun in his hands. Under two feet long, it looked like a toy within his grasp. Equipped with an extended magazine holding thirty-five 4.85 mm steel jacketed rounds, the weapon possessed a 700-round-per-minute rate of fire. The grip and trigger unit were placed in front of the breech in the bullpup design, allowing for onehanded use.
An optical image intensifier scope and laser autotargeter were mounted on the top of the frame. Low recoil allowed the Copperhead to be fired in a long, devastating, full-auto burst that could empty the magazine in seconds.
As Grant stepped out from beneath the overhang, he said, “I’m not forgetting the way we were doublecrossed the last time we worked with the Russians.”
Grant’s oblique reminders to events nearly five years before hadn’t become as repetitious as Domi’s complaints, but the big man’s objections to teaming up with Major Zuryakin were hardly new.
“Sverdlovosk was a rogue District Twelve agent,” Kane said. “We can’t judge the entire organization by that bastard.”
“Why not?” Grant challenged.
“It’s too damn late for one thing,” Kane shot back.
“Besides, could you judge all of the Magistrate Divisions by me and you?”
When no response was forthcoming, Kane continued. “We’ve already agreed to let Zuryakin and her D-12 troops run the show. We pull out now, it’s a shit-serious diplomatic screwup we’ll never recover from. We’re going to need their resources against the overlords.”
Both Domi and Grant scowled at him but said nothing. They knew Kane spoke the truth, even if they didn’t like it. Diplomacy, turning potential enemies into allies against the spreading reign of the overlords, had become the paramount tactic of Cerberus over the past couple of years.
Lessons in how to deal with foreign cultures and religions took the place of weapons instruction and other training. Over the past several years, Domi, Brigid Baptiste and former Cobaltville Magistrates Grant and Kane had tramped through jungles, ruined cities, over mountains, across deserts and they found strange cultures everywhere, often bizarre recreations of societies that had vanished long before the nuclear holocaust.
All the personnel of Cerberus, nearly half a world away atop a mountain peak in Montana, had devoted themselves to changing the nuke-scarred planet into something better. At least that was their earnest hope. To turn hope into reality meant respecting the often alien behavior patterns of a vast number of ancient religions, legends, myths and taboos.
With a resigned grunt, Grant said, “Let’s get going. The trigger is set.”
As he stepped away from the overhang, a pale thread of violet light bisected a drift of powdery snow. The photoelectric cell affixed to a shelf of stone served as the trigger for a proximity detonator. An explosive charge had been planted high on the roadside as an insurance policy in case any of the convoy broke through the ambush.
As the three people slogged through the packed snow banked up on the side of the channel, Grant muttered sullenly, “You know, it was a lot easier when we shot whoever gave us the stink-eye without worrying about diplomacy.”
“Yeah,” Domi chirped with a crooked grin. “The good old days.”
Kane understood and sympathized with his partner’s discomfort even though themanwas exaggerating their former methods of operation. He didn’t trust the Russians, either. Until he, Grant and Brigid visited the country on their first official op for Cerberus, no one knew if the place even existed as a cohesive culture and nation.
Like most intercontinental locations, Russia was a big mystery—except to the Russians, who weren’t providing information. The few scraps of intel that had leaked out since the atomic megacull of 2001 had to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing.
Moscow had been hit very hard, as had most of the other Russian industrial cities. The entire country had suffered through skydark, the nuclear winter, like the rest of the nuke-ravaged planet, but because of its extreme northern latitudes, it was believed that for more than thirty years, temperatures rarely rose above ten degrees Fahrenheit. Speculation had it that more Russians died during skydark than during the actual holocaust.
When the Cerberus team arrived in the country nearly five years before, they learned the massive loss of life that came as an aftermath of the day-long war two centuries before was not a speculative matter. They had also been introduced, very unpleasantly, to District Twelve, the ultrasecret arm of Russia’s internal security network.
Coming to a halt at the base of a snow-covered outcropping, Kane looked around, very aware of the growl of multiple engines floating above the crest of the rise. “Where the hell is everybody?” he muttered.
Kane turned in the direction of Major Zuryakin’s voice. The snowbanked high on both sides of the road dislodged a dozen figures. The District Twelve operatives were attired in identical white snowsuits that covered them from head to toe, their faces concealed by white knit balaclavas. Their zippered pockets bulged with equipment, giving them a distinct resemblance to albino walruses.
Zuryakin had mentioned that all D-12 field troopers were trained to live rough—they carried no sleeping bags, and anything pertaining to their survival that couldn’t be jammed into a pocket or a small haversack was abandoned. Each operative carried a black, very utilitarian AKSU subgun.
Major Zuryakin herself wasn’t a particularly tall woman, but she was broadly built with chunky hips and thick thighs. Unmistakably unfeminine, her hair was cropped to little more than a skullcap of silvery bristles. A white leather patch covered her left eye, and her right gleamed with the pale gray hue of Arctic ice.
“Took you long enough,” she said reprovingly.
Grant frowned. “How do you figure that?”
From a pocket, the major fished out a silver flask. She stepped toward them, uncapping it. “Because the vodka is almost boiling from being so close to my pizda for so long. Have a breakfast drink, tovarisches…it might be your last opportunity.”
~ Satan's Seed will be in bookstores August 7th, 2007.
at 10:19 PM